Starting June 1, the U.S. will recognize the European Union’s organic certification, and vice versa.
What this means for U.S. consumers, I believe, is that products certified organic under E.U. standards (most commonly, these are products grown in the EU) will soon be allowed to be labeled “organic” in U.S. supermarkets. Until now, to be labeled “organic” in the U.S. market, a product had to be certified under the USDA’s own standards.
And vice versa, with respect to the European Union.
What does this change mean? For consumers, not much. There are some differences between US and EU organic regulations, but they are much more a matter of details than of philosophy. Both sets of standards ban most synthetic and petroleum-based substances from use in fertilizing or controlling pests or weeds on organic farms.
But both sets also have long lists of exceptions that allow certain synthetic materials–typically those deemed necessary for cost-effective farming, but of minimal adverse impact on consumers’ health or the environment–to be used nontheless on organic farms. And there’s been major controversy in the past when the USDA has proposed expanding that list so broadly that the organic certification would potentially have been called into question, as being almost meaningless. And now the EU will have that same power to add exceptions to its own organic standard, and yet still allow its products to be labeled organic in the U.S.
But I’m not sure there’s big reason for concern here, and if anything there should be reason to celebrate: this saves EU farmers the extra expense of getting a second (USDA) certification if they wish to sell their goods as “organic” in the U.S., and this should help to make even more organic products available, more cheaply and readily, in the U.S.
In any event, that’s my initial reaction to this decision. I’ll keep an eye out for others’ commentary and post again if people raise some bigger concerns.